We’ve been looking at the nature of house churches and how they help kids to get involved and participate in the life of the church. The last area that we need to touch on is often forgotten in a Western context, but it’s critical for discipleship of believers of any age, and definitely for children: the church is interactive.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he could have easily criticized the leaders of the church there for letting the meetings devolve in to chaos in the practice and use of their gifts. Instead, he wrote to the whole church to address the issue (see 1 Corinthains 1:2, 12:1). He expected the whole church to help clean up an issue that they were all making.
Then when he describes how the body should function when they gather, he describes a meeting where many people contribute all for the building up of the body. “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you,” (1 Corinthians 14:26). This is the best description we get of the normal meeting of believers in the New Testament. In fact, it lines up with what the writer of Hebrews describes as the purpose of the church meeting together: encouraging one another (see Hebrews 10:25).
Why is this important for kids? Church was designed to be interactive as the Holy Spirit leads different members of the body. This creates a measure of spontaneity in the body that helps keep kids attention. It also, if done correctly and with the proper coaching of the kids, creates an environment where kids are able to participate with what God is doing instead of being spectators. Too often church has become something they watch instead of something they participate in.
This is the real goal of kids being involved and participating in church: We form our kids as disciples and members of the church from the moment they become followers of Jesus and even before. I remember when my oldest daughter decided to follow Jesus. We had emphasized in our churches the need for baptism as soon as someone decided to follow Christ, so at age four when she decided to follow Jesus, it was time for her to get baptized. She learned the truth about baptism as the next step in following Christ because that’s what she lived through.
But we’re after more than them just observing and learning. We are also after them sharing their gifts with us. As followers of Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they have the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in them just as much as any adult. In fact, they may be more open to Him and His ways than we are. So an interactive church allows for kids to speak up, say what they are hearing from the Lord, pray, speak the word of the Lord, and contribute in a myriad of ways.
We just have to believe that they can and be open to them doing it.
Other Posts in the House Churches and Kids Series
One of the ideas we’ve often lived by is the idea that church is family. Church isn’t supposed to just be *like* a family. It actually is a family of people, from different biological, sociological, and societal backgrounds, but because Jesus has come and changed us, we all become brothers and sisters, born of the same Father.
Jesus was clear about this: “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father,” (Matthew 23:8-9). Our position before God is not one of roles, but one of love. He loves us as a father and we are to love each other as brothers and sisters.
The apostles continued this teaching in their days. Paul says it this way to the Thessalonians: “As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too,” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). This was the way that Paul lived among those on his ministry team and those he ministered to. He was like a child and, to the extent that he was further along than the new converts, he was like a nursing mother. There were plenty of metaphors Paul could have used, but the ones he chose were deeply family-oriented.
Paul would later write to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15 about how people should conduct themselves “in the household of God.” The Greek word for household is oikos and literally is the Greek word describing a family that lives within a house. The Apostle John would also write about how the church was made up of children, young men, and fathers, (1 John 2:12-14) and would write a whole epistle to a woman who was likely the leader of a house church and her dear children who were likely other participants in this gathering (2 John, for more on this statement, reference Chapter 6 of “Stick Your Neck Out“). The more you investigate this topic, the more you begin to see the early church understood themselves as God’s family and operated as such.
Often, we treat the church as a hybrid between a business and a school. There is a message that needs to be communicated and a product that needs to be offered. However, when church is a family, love and care become what drives what happens when we gather. This is why Paul, in the midst of correcting the Corinthians about the excesses in their meetings, spends an entire chapter on the importance of love (1 Corinthians 13). The point wasn’t that everything would be done mechanically, but that everything would be done in love.
I grew up in a family. It wasn’t perfect, but we did love each other. I also grew up in an extended family. My father’s family had five children and each of those children married and had 2 or three kids of their own, so when we gathered together there was always a huge crowd at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I often relate my experience of church as family back to these times growing up. There was always room for even the youngest of kids to be around. Not every gathering was super structured, but we made allowance for kids to be kids, while still allowing them to participate in the functions of the family gathering.
And I believe the church can be like that if it begins to believe that church is family. Remember, we do teach when we gather, but teaching/preaching isn’t the point. Love is. Remember, Paul said, “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I have a friend who was briefly a part of the underground church in China. He would often tell stories about what it was like to be a part of their meetings. One of the things that stuck out to me was that there was no child care. The believers would often meet on Sunday mornings for a meeting where everyone would be a part, including the children. Then they would break for a communal meal together. Then, after the meal, the mothers and the small children would take naps together while the men dealt with sensitive affairs of the church. Those of you with small children will understand how important this is.
I believe the church can incorporate children, but it will require the church to become like family again.
Whenever we start a conversation about how house churches handle kids, we have to stop and ask ourselves what we mean by church. That may seem like an odd statement, but the reality is, if we never question what we mean by church, we may be aiming toward a goal that we should never be shooting for.
Nowhere does this ring true more than in the realm of children. If the idea of what we mean when we say church is a time of singing we leave feeling really uplifted by, followed by a speech by someone that is designed to inform, confront, admonish, and even convert it’s audience, then children become a difficult part of the equation. If worship and preaching for the benefit of the audience is the highest priority, then kids can be a part of the church meeting but should never interrupt. As the old (and I believe, wrong) saying goes, “Children should be seen and not heard.”
But, if church is more than just a time of singing and speaking for the benefit of an audience, then perhaps incorporating kids in what we do might be a little bit easier than we thought. If church is more than a production, then kids interrupting what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal. Maybe it’s even the point! Understanding what we mean when we say “church” can change the equation for us.
Let’s first talk about what Jesus meant when he said “church.” Believe it or not, Jesus only mentioned the word “church” twice in the Gospels. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises that he would build a church that the gates of hell couldn’t win against. This is a primarily symbolic picture of a triumphant church. In Matthew 18:7, Jesus refers to the church as a gathering of believers, larger than two or three people, who a believer could bring another believer before as a final confrontation step. What we learn from this use is that, to Jesus, the church is a group of people.
Throughout the rest of the New Testament, we see the church being mentioned as a people, not a place or a thing. Consider how Luke describes the church in Acts: The church has people added to it (Acts 2:41), is gripped by fear (Acts 5:11), has peace (Acts 9:31), hears (Acts 11:30), is called together (Acts 14:27), decides (Acts 15:4), welcomes (Acts 15:4), has joy (Acts 15:31), and were strengthened (Acts 16:5). All of these references are to the church as a group of people, not a building or event.
Peter emphasizes this strongly in his first epistle. He says in 1 Peter 2:5, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” Later he says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2:9).
The message is clear. There is a temple in Christianity–one made of people who are fashioned together into a people who bring praise to Jesus. God’s people are a corporate priesthood and a holy nation–a called out people to show God’s goodness.
What does any of this have to do with church or children? Well if church is primarily an event–a combination of sacraments, teaching, and singing–then kids are an obstacle to overcome. If church is a group of people who follow Jesus, though, then the kids who are following Jesus aren’t an obstacle to church–they are a part of church!
So here is the first of many bold statements that I’ll make as we talk through the concept of kids and house churches–Kid’s can’t interrupt church because church isn’t a show. Saying “kids interrupt the church” is like saying “kids interrupt the family.” Kids can interrupt a family conversation or a family song, but they can never interrupt the family. The family was made for kids.
We’ll talk about this more tomorrow, but for now, let’s leave with this thought: If we start with church as a people and not as an event or a show, we can start to re-evaluate the place kids have in a church.
Other Posts in the House Churches and Kids Series